It’s not easy choosing the G.O.A.T. Like American Lit exams, it’s more essay question than multiple choice. And even if you’re tennis’s answer to Mark Twain, those snarky Sartre-types can always blow smoke in your eyes and snarl: “What a futile exercise. It’s obvious that the G.O.A.T. is a media construct and not reality.”
Can you pick a G.O.A.T. from the choices below?:
- Big Bill Tilden: He dominated like no other player ever has or maybe ever will. (Yeah, back when players wore pants and sipped brandy between games!)
- Rod Laver: He won the Grand Slam twice – as an amateur in 1962 and as a pro in 1969 (But 3 of the 4 Majors were on grass! How many would Roger or Pete have won if the surfaces hadn’t changed?)
- Bjorn Borg: He won six French Open and five consecutive Wimbledon titles. (But he bolted as soon as McEnroe reared his curly head! And he couldn’t master New York, either.)
- Pete Sampras: He held 14 major titles and was year end No. 1 for six consecutive years – an open era record that Roger will likely never break (The operative word is “held” as in Roger now holds a record 15 major titles – including one at the French Open. The best Pete ever did in Paris was the semi-finals – once.)
- Roger Federer: 15 majors and counting, career slam, best hair in history. (Oh, and that crappy 7-13 head-to-head against Rafael Nadal.)
Here’s a question to keep those philosophy majors smoking clove cigarettes past their bedtimes: How can Roger Federer be the greatest of all time, if he isn’t the (undeniable) greatest of his era?
Pete Sampras, who has praised Roger’s accomplishments, was recently asked about the Roger-Rafa G.O.A.T. conundrum. And I think he’s stumped:
“I do understand the argument as far as being the best ever. You have to be the man of your generation. He (Roger) has come up short against Nadal. I can see the point. It’s hard to answer that. I don’t know how to answer it. You know, it’s not done yet. Roger’s career isn’t done yet. He’s going to play Nadal a number of times over the next number of years, and he has to beat him. He has to beat him in the finals of majors. To be considered the greatest ever, he certainly in my book is (already that). But he has to figure this kid out. . .It would have bothered me if I had a losing record against Andre in majors.” (via tennis.com)
Just for the record: Sampras was 20-14 over Agassi, including a 6-3 head-to-head in slams.
Okay, maybe Pete’s on to something – maybe it’s just a matter of time before Roger turns that head-to-head around, dominates Rafa from the clay of Monte Carlo to the Cincinnati hard courts and treats his Spanish rival like Lleyton Hewitt in the US Open final. Or – and this seems more likely – things will continue more as less as they have been, with Roger winning some and losing more (and more) as he enters his twilight years on tour. And who knows how many majors Rafa will win before he’s forced to replace his knees with ball bearings? Few could argue Rafa’s G.O.A.T.ness if (still a big IF) he surpasses Roger’s trophy count.
This is about the time when I bum a cig and go brood in the corner. G.O.A.T., schmoat, as Descartes would say.
What do you think?